Boo! It’s that time of year again. The neighborhood kids are out knocking at your door even though your light’s turned off and you’ve got all the candy to yourself in the basement. Gone are the days where Halloween was all about the loss of teenage innocence, egging your neighbor’s side panelling, and raunchy slasher flicks. Man, I miss the 80s. At least we’ve got Vanik and their nine brand-new Halloween anthems to keep us company.
Vanik arises from the eerie underground of Cleveland Ohio, probably out of some basement somewhere, I don’t know. Who cares. We’ve got Ed Stephens on bass, Al Biddle on percussion, Vic Stown on guitar, and Shaun Vanek (who plays for Midnight live) on guitar/vocals. I’m pretty sure Mr. Vanek is the ringleader here, or at least the band’s founder, as his creativity only reached far enough to switch out a letter from his last name to create the eponymous band title.
The Halloween-enthused quartet has only been on one previous endeavour as a group, which was 2016’s self-titled full-length Vanik, unsurprisingly released on that year’s fright night. Well, in between other projects the group has decided to release their sophomore LP Dark Season on October 26th of this year, allowing fans a little intimate time with the record prior to October 31st. The record is out on digital and CD formats via Shadow Kingdom Records, and a vinyl and cassette release is noted to be coming soon.
Dissimilar to other review fodder around these parts, Vanik plays within the speed/heavy metal subgenre of the extreme music realm, harkening back to the old-school days of the metal world. The group reminds me a lot of those old Iron Maiden or Cirith Ungol albums which churn with a jumpy and smooth-edged quality to them.
Anyways, Vanik’s creative direction is clear when taking into account all factors. Their album artwork, music production, and lyrical themes all scream for the season; the season of Halloween. While not necessarily spooky in the vein of Acid Witch or Hooded Menace, Vanik plays with anthem-like song structures, catchy choruses, singalongs, and simple riffs.
Isn’t it odd how metal changes with the season in terms of fan taste? Year-long we abuse our ears with sonic infestations, plaguing our brains with violent lyrical themes and putrid productions. However, when those two weeks prior to Hallow’s Eve roll around, we soften our palate and listen to corny 80s-themed metal to the likes of Acid Witch and Helloween. I guess the inversion of themes results from a surplus of serious gore and a widespread love for past decades.
There are three general reasons why Dark Season is a success and is the album to be spinning this Halloween: catchiness, creative diversity, and replay-ability.
First off, no matter what angle you look at it, Dark Season boils down to a catchy, groovy, and enjoyable string of Halloween anthems. This isn’t a pop-metal record or anything like that; I see the elitists’ coattails heading for the door already. The record does not suffer from any obvious lack of effort, it simply features a clear emphasis on fun and simple songwriting which fortunately doesn’t grow tiresome, as will be touched upon later. The amount of simple fun riffs on this record is innumerable, my favourites being the intro to “Heresy Undertow” and “One of Us”. Furthermore, vocalist Vanek sings these unbeatably-hooky choruses song after song, allowing for an enjoyable listen throughout.
Secondly, there is an unescapable creative diversity to be found that will undoubtedly amaze listeners and critics alike. The intro song “Dark Season” (which works splendidly I might add) features a talk box solo, I’m pretty sure. I’m no expert on instruments aside from the dubious duo of the guitar/percussion, but there is definitely some weird stuff going on behind the scenes during this track. Furthermore, while I wouldn’t cite the vocalist’s dynamic range as being something more than enjoyable as he tends to stay within the same region throughout the album, there are a few long “oooooh” sections and high-pitched wails that he hits during various songs which delight the listener, namely during “Jack’s Lantern” and “Witch Rites”.
Finally, the ultimate make-or-break of this release lies behind its replay-factor. One of the dangers of course which couples with such a simple and fun release is that it risks sacrificing replay-ability for tangible enjoyment. This is the reason why people don’t listen to the Yearly Top 100 singles on repeat, as those songs are written for widespread enjoyment and not cult appraise. However, Vanik manages to dodge and parry this unfriendly foe through strong songwriting. Yes, while the nine complete numbers of Dark Season are simple and fun, they’re also built with clever hooks, great choruses, and cement-like song structures. So, while remaining thoroughly-enjoyable to all, hardcore fans will continue to seek more and more of Vanik’s material, despite the absent-minded music, listen after listen. Now, does the record remain listenable without the coupled Halloween season? I don’t think so, but Dark Season will remain an October classic from here on out.
So, there you have it folks. Vanik’s sophomore output will rule this Halloween season with its triple attack of catchiness, creativity, and replay-ability. While Acid Witch’s Witchtanic Hellucinations will always be held near and dear to my heart, that record turns ten years old on October 24th, and I think we have a new king of Halloween this year.